Each month, Michigan recruiting writer Kevin Goheen will take a look at the Wolverines’ to-do list. This outlook focuses on three concerns for the program’s recruiting efforts in the weeks ahead. In this edition, we look at how Michigan is preparing for the new early signing period of Dec. 20-22.
December has always been an important month for football recruiting but it takes on added importance this year as an early signing period has been added to the calendar. It’s a 72-hour window when players can sign their National Letter of Intent instead of waiting until the regular February signing date. It’s a period many players are expected to take advantage of in order to end their recruitment. Teams will have a better gauge on their classes after the early period and what they will have to do to fill them.
Here are three things Michigan needs to accomplish this month:
Solidify the commitments it has
Michigan has 16 players committed to the 2018 class and 11 of them are set to sign during the early period. Four of the other five have indicated they plan on signing in February, while only linebacker Otis Reese (Leesburg, Ga.) is a toss-up to keep his reservation with the Wolverines. Reese plays at Lee County, the same school where Michigan 2017 freshman defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon played. He committed to Michigan in June 2016 but Reese may be rethinking that announcement. Reese has visited Georgia on a couple of occasions this football season and analysts at 247Sports now have their Crystal Ball projections favoring the home state Bulldogs.
Reese (6-foot-4, 206) is listed as a linebacker by recruiting sites but Michigan has talked to him about playing viper, the hybrid linebacker-safety position defensive coordinator Don Brown utilizes. He plays safety for Lee County, which has reached the state semifinals in Georgia’s Class AAAAAA playoffs.
The early signing period does not mean players have to enroll early, but three players have indicated they will be starting classes in January: quarterback Joe Milton, cornerback Myles Sims and defensive end Taylor Upshaw. They will be able to take part in the winter conditioning program as well as spring practices. That will be especially important for Milton, a 4-star recruit from Orlando who could push for the starting job in a competition with Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey.
Michigan lost Emil Ekiyor to Alabama in October. It could lose Reese to Georgia, but the Wolverines have made him a priority of their class. We may not find out until February if that effort results in Reese signing with Michigan.
Firm up the defensive and offensive lines
Michigan has signed 10 defensive linemen and nine offensive linemen in the last two recruiting classes but it needs to continue building the base of its team in these two areas. That’s especially true on the offensive side of the ball where it is imperative that the Wolverines get better and more consistent play if they hope to achieve their goals of winning the Big Ten championship and playing for a national title in the coming seasons.
The lines are two position groups this 2018 class is lacking in at this point. There are just two players committed on each side of the ball; defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and Upshaw, and tackles Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes.
Defensive linemen Eyabi Anoma and Tyler Friday, and tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere are at the top of Michigan’s wish list. All three players took official visits to Ann Arbor on Nov. 25. Michigan is also pursuing defensive end Jayson Oweh and tackle Jarrett Patterson, an Arizona State commit, hard.
The Wolverines might not get everyone they want during the early signing period but it’s important that they are positioned to fill those spots in February.
Land a couple of wide receivers
At the top of the list is Ja’Marr Chase, a 4-star prospect from Metairie, La., who had been a Florida commit until the Gators fired Jim McElvaine. Michigan might have come onto Chase’s recruitment later than others but the Wolverines have made him a priority, backing up his official visit on Nov. 25 with a home visit by passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton this week.
The 2017 season should underscore how difficult it is for a freshman to come in and play consistently well at this level. Michigan had a ballyhooed class of freshman wide receivers. Tarik Black earned a starting spot at the beginning of the season but that season was stalled after three games due to a fractured foot bone. Donovan Peoples-Jones played in all 12 games but had just 16 catches. Nico Collins saw action in three games, while Oliver Martin did not see the field this season.
Michigan has seven returning scholarship players at wide receiver, plus non-scholarship receiver Nate Schoenle. Those eight players combined to make 79 catches for 987 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Wolverines need better production from this group. They can use more talent to push this group.
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